Photo: Roger Atkinson
[ Roger Atkinson's Home Page ] [ Publications Contents ]

Does mobile friendly work for you?

Roger Atkinson

This musing arose earlier in 2016 from some email discussions after a meeting of a conference organising committee, which included these observations on fonts:

... it may no longer be necessary to have submissions in the Times New Roman font. We almost exclusively use Calibri here and I have noticed this trend elsewhere. It appears no one is using Times New Roman anymore.
So I started to unpick the observations, 'We almost exclusively use Calibri here' and 'no one is using Times New Roman anymore'. In this unpicking process I reflected upon fonts that are prominent in computer operating systems, in popular tools for document creation, and in academic publishing. From that I ended up with a slightly grumpy summation of the most important recent influence that I perceived, namely 'Does mobile friendly work for you?'

Beginning with 'We almost exclusively use Calibri here', it is not surprising that use of this font has expanded in recent times, given Microsoft's choice of it as the MS Office default font since 2007. Presumably changing to a new default font helped to differentiate their new version of Office from previous versions. An understandable marketing tactic, but I'm sceptical. It reminded me of an observation from my childhood in the early 1950s, when Holden used to change the car radiator grill every year or so and proclaim it as the new 'modern look' model. So I was not surprised to find this explanation from Joe Friend, one of Microsoft's developers for Office 2007:

At the time [2003-2007], Office was looking to modernize the look and feel of documents created by the Office applications. They hadn't changed substantially since the early 90s. Among many other improvements, the introduction of the new fonts had a big impact on the modern look. The use of san serif Calibri as our default body font (instead of the old standard Times New Roman) was one of the more controversial changes. (Friend, 2013[1])
'Modernize the look and feel of documents'? Perhaps many users of Office were resentful as they regard 'look and feel' as their prerogative, not Microsoft's. Office is only a tool! I am the creator! At the time, and continuing even now, 'how to change default font in Word' became a popular search topic, with many answers appearing online[2]. Many users of Office seem to be in the categories 'don't know how to change to a different font', 'it is too difficult to change' (I agree, it is difficult to change the default font), or 'I don't care', or even 'I am happy with Calibri as default font'. Usually, receivers of an Office document will not notice whether the creator changed Office defaults, or did a simple global change to obtain the desired or specified font.

However, if you are receiving documents for copy editing prior to publication in a journal, then you do notice. To illustrate, I did counts on the last 44 Word documents I have received as copy editor for Issues in Educational Research[3] (comprising all 2016 acceptances except one, and the first five for 2017). In 28 cases the creators had not changed default font from Calibri, whilst in 16 cases the creators had changed the Office default, from Calibri to Times New Roman (TNR) (11 cases), or to the Office default serif font Cambria (2 cases) or other serif font (3 cases). IIER does not specify a font for submission of accepted and revised articles, the specification is simply 'please use Normal style only'. However, in all cases except seven the authors or creators submitted in Times New Roman, with the exceptions being Calibri (3 cases), and serif fonts other than TNR (4 cases). As default settings are stored within each Office document, it is relatively easy to 'spy' upon the authors or creators - open their document, select the style 'Normal', then 'Modify', and the defaults will be displayed. Often I see the Office default that is the most grump provoking, namely 'Line spacing: multiple 1.15 li'. How silly, single spacing and double spacing we all understand, but what the heck is a 1.15 line spacing?

Turning now to 'no one is using Times New Roman anymore', my interest centred upon 'no one', that is a consideration of the various groups that we may envisage within 'no one'. The anecdotal evidence outlined above suggests that authors and creators prefer TNR, or perhaps some other serif font, but what practices are adopted by the major academic journal publishers? My working hypothesis is that publishers seek pages that 'look like' pages in the most influential and prestigious academic journals. So I undertook a small scale investigation, using two sources to identify 'the most influential and prestigious' in education research, firstly John Lamp's record of the ERA's 2010 ranking of journals (the infamous 'Tiers' rankings)[4], and secondly from the SCImago Journal & Country Rank website[5]. This became a rather large data table in TNR 9 point, a little tedious in the compilation because for nearly all journals I had to search for an open access article in order to ascertain practices at the article text level, in contrast to the table of contents and abstract only level (the poor representation of open access articles in 'the most influential and prestigious' is a topic outside the scope of the current musing). Here it will suffice to state my conclusion that amongst the most prestigious journals and the major publishers, we are seeing the recent emergence of 'dual version' online publication of research articles. As I have not yet found good names from my reading about academic publishing trends[6], I'll use labels that reflect my perception of the principal purpose for each of the 'dual versions' (or perhaps 'twin styles'), namely 'prestigious' and 'mobile friendly'.

'Prestigious' is the easier to illustrate, probably being more familiar to both novice and experienced academic writers. Typically, 'prestigious' journals are older, established well before online publication was enabled by the new technologies, and they retain and perhaps emphasise a 'look and feel' that indicates a long standing, superior reputation, and a closeness to a paper printed version that uses a serif font such as TNR. HERDSA's Higher Education Research and Development (HERD)[7] is a good example. For many years its online version for articles has been PDF files only, using TNR font. Recently HERD's publisher, Taylor & Francis, added HTML versions using a Calibri-like font, OpenSans. The HTML versions deliver a number of additional features, including 'pop-ups' that show details of a citation (so that the reader does not have to scroll down to the References section, and then back again), and links to related articles, citations, and article metrics. Other major publishers such as Wiley (e.g. British Journal of Educational Technology[8]) and Elsevier (e.g. The Internet and Higher Education[9]) have introduced similar innovations. However, whilst these innovative purposes or services are helpful, desirable and 'cool', I characterise the principal purpose of the HTML version as delivering the 'mobile friendly' attribute. The main 'mobile friendly' features are use of a sans serif font, a large size such as 18 point, good resizability, and a relatively wide line spacing.

My selecting 'mobile friendly' as a characterisation of the current wave of innovation amongst academic journal publishers was triggered in part by some catchy examples, including these two which related to conference travel:

Have Journal Will Travel...
All Oxford journals now have mobile optimized sites offering streamlined display for small screens and low-bandwidth networks. This allows you to access our journals quickly and easily via smart phone from virtually anywhere. (Oxford University Press)[10]

Mobile-friendly Editors' Choice website allows you to share 'Top 5' articles
... a new direction for Editors' Choice, which began as an app for conference attendees in 2012... website has been crafted to provide an optimal viewing experience - easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling - across a wide range of devices, from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors. (Elsevier)[11]

'Mobile friendly' in my thinking is tightly linked to 'friendly mobile', that is to say linked to the technological advances and infrastructure investments that in recent years have enabled mobile ICT devices and services to become so 'user friendly' and 'must have'. In particular, with special implications for publishers, we have enjoyed an incredible rate of progress in screen display technologies and manufacturing technologies which has flooded the market with ever higher resolution screens, a great range of sizes and functionalities to suit a wide diversity of ways of using, and of course, as we have come to expect, seemingly always more attractive prices. One of the most noteworthy of the many impacts is upon the matter of legibility of fonts. In earlier times with lower resolution screens, sans serif fonts were generally better at giving 'crisp' or 'sharp' displays of each letter, compared with serif fonts which were more liable to 'fuzziness'. Nowadays, all screens are high resolution, including mobile devices.

So, if the 'mobile friendly' feature of a sans serif font such as Calibri is not for you, and you prefer 'prestigious' with a serif font such as TNR, you may so choose. Even on your tablet computer or smart phone, and now, increasingly, you may so choose for your journal reading.


  1. Friend, J. (2013). Why did Microsoft change the default font to Calibri? Forbes Quora, 18 December.
  2. Use a Google search to illustrate:
  3. Issues in Educational Research,
  4. John Lamp's record of the ERA's 2010 ranking of journals:
  5. SCImago Journal & Country Rank website,
  6. One valuable reference is: Erickson, A. P. (2013). The ABC's of font: Effects of changing default fonts. Eastern Washington University Masters Thesis Collection. Paper 108.
  7. Higher Education Research and Development,
  8. British Journal of Educational Technology,
  9. The Internet and Higher Education,
  10. Oxford University Press,
  11. Willems, L. (2014). Mobile-friendly Editors' Choice website allows you to share 'Top 5' articles Elsevier Editors' Choice, 14 May.

Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University in June 2001. His current activities include honorary work on the TL Forum conference series, Issues in Educational Research, and other academic conference support and publishing activities. Website (including this article in html format):

Note: The version presented here is longer than the print published version, as it includes references that were omitted for space constraint reasons.

Please cite as: Atkinson, R. J. (2016). Does mobile friendly work for you? HERDSA News, 38(3).

[ Roger Atkinson's Home Page ] [ Publications Contents ]
Created 13 Jan 2017. Last correction: 13 Jan 2017. HTML author: Roger Atkinson []
This URL: